Alibaba Chief Executive Jack Ma said at the World A.I. Conference in Shanghai that technology was moving along at a rapid enough clip that one day, humans could very well max their workweek at 12 hours — and moreover, they should.
Easy there, Ma.
Idle hands very often do lead to the devil’s work.
Twelve-hour work weeks, for most humans, would prove disastrous.
“I think people should work three days a week, four hours a day,” Ma said, BBC reported. “In the artificial intelligence period, people can live 120 years. At that time we are going to have a lot of jobs which nobody will want to do. So, we need artificial intelligence for the robots to take care of the old guys.”
Hmm. Sounds a vision for, well, boredom at best, depravity, at worst. And given the nature of humans who are left with oodles of hours to fill and very little fruitful or meaningful activity with which to fill them, it’s very likely the latter, the depravity, that will result.
Ma may be a smart guy.
He may be a technological wizard.
But when it comes to predicting a happy future for a humanity that’s excused from the typical burdens of life — that no longer has to abide the basic work-to-eat principle — Ma’s a bit of a blockhead.
He thinks the free time will result in more creativity.
He thinks factory workers, mechanics, real estate agents, truck drivers, cabbies, customer service assistants, retail employees and others — that all these people whose jobs can and will be performed by robots with artificial intelligence — that they will, with gratitude, abandon their 40-hour work weeks and start drawing and painting and building and creating.
That all people, regardless of their chosen vocations, are actually quite unhappy with their chosen vocations and would much prefer to spend all but 12 hours of their 168-hour weeks in idle pursuits, under the umbrella of creativity.
It’s just not so.
Employment isn’t just a paycheck. It’s a source of self-esteem — a way to block time — a means of marking goals and paving roads to success. Not everybody wants to be the next Leonardo da Vinci; not everybody minds putting in 12-hour days, 60-hour weeks, and coming home with blistery hands and tired feet.
There’s something to be said for struggle.
“The work we do can have a huge impact on our mental health,” Psychology Today reported in mid-2018. “Conversely, the work that we don’t do can have an even greater and more deleterious effect on our mental health. Continued research reveals that unemployment and underemployment can cause depression and ‘scarring.’”
So, too, would seem the expectation for, say, a customer service worker, displaced by technology and facing the prospect of filling the hours of the week with nebulously defined creative pursuits, to stay chipper and cheerful and actually feel fruitful with the newfound — imposed — freedom.
Dare say it’d be enough to take one’s universal basic income check to the nearest bar to drown the depression in alcohol.
But then again, in this brave new work world of technology and machinery, maybe there’ll be some A.I.-infused robot therapists who could help with that.
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ckchumley.
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